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How to prioritize ideas

Picture_8Herb Kelleher, the founder and CEO of Southwest Airlines, was approached by a young woman in the marketing department about a proposal. She told him that surveys showed that passengers on the Houston to Las Vegas flight might enjoy a light entrée. “All we offer now is peanuts,” she pointed out, “and a nice chicken Caesar salad would be popular…” Kelleher pondered her proposal for a few seconds before responding: “Tracy, will adding the chicken Caesar salad make us THE low-fare airline from Houston to Las Vegas? Because if it doesn’t help us become the unchallenged low-fare airline, we’re not serving any damn chicken salad.”

This story is recounted in a highly-recommended book called Made to Stick. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to read this book, as it has been recommended a dozen times and I knew it contained valuable information. So now that I’m reading it, what’s so great about it?

Well, it offers a simple and concrete blueprint for finding core principles and then communicating them to other people. In the practice of law, at least the part that involves litigation, this is the most important thing you can learn. And, sadly, it’s something that most lawyers have trouble with. Partly, it’s because we don’t teach this in law school. But mostly it’s because nobody has offered us the blueprint. Made to Stick contains the blueprint.

You would think that finding the core idea is easy, and sometimes it is. But even when it is (and that’s less common than most people think), communicating a core idea is extremely difficult. It requires persistent clarity, and relentless focus. Herb Kelleher gets up every day and reminds himself what the core idea of his business is: “Southwest is THE low fare airline.” Then he struggles to remind everyone else as they doggedly pursue undiscovered ideas that are very good.

The core idea is ‘core’ not because it is a good idea. It’s the best idea, but it doesn’t stay in everyone’s focus by that fact alone. Made to Stick explains why people drift away from the core idea, and why they have trouble communicating it. Lawyers who want to improve their powers of persuasion would do well to read this book. However, I don’t recommend it to every lawyer. For example, I wouldn’t recommend that my opponents read it. Ever.

P.S. If you're a practicing lawyer, check out this Law Practice Assessment . After answering a few questions, you'll get detailed recommendations for improving five key areas of your practice.


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